Ears on the Odyssey

Narrator Interview: Rebecca Soler

Rebecca Soler is an award-winning actress and much decorated voice actress. She has voiced numerous principal characters for the animated series Viva Piñata, Huntik, The Winx Club, and Chaotic. She is the recipient of several AudioFile Magazine Earphones Awards, Audies Awards, and recently co-narrated Sadie, which was awarded the Odyssey Award in 2019.

Ears on the Odyssey contributor Colleen Seisser recently interviewed Rebecca Soler and learned more about all of the things that make her such a remarkable narrator. Many thanks to Listening Library for putting us in touch with Rebecca. We really enjoyed learning more about her, and we think that you will, too!

CS: You have narrated many fairy tale and fantasy inspired works. Do you experience any differences between narrating fantasy versus realistic fiction?

RS: No matter the style or setting, I feel like it is my job to make the characters feel like real people and to keep the stakes high and to vocally build pace and momentum to the story.  I think for me, the biggest difference between fantasy and “realistic” fiction is sometimes getting to establish a new galaxy/ species/language. I find it is critical that the director & I work with the author to make sure I am pronouncing their fictional language correctly.  

CS: Follow up: Do you enjoy narrating a certain genre over another?

RS: I don’t have a favorite genre.  I am a huge reader. I always have a book in my bag – whether I am prepping a project or not.  I actually try to switch up my genres in my pleasure reading. If I just read a biography, I will grab some fiction.  If I just read a heavy subject, I will switch to a guilty-pleasure-beach read. I like to make sure I am constantly learning.  Because of that, I love an eclectic group of writers. For narration I gravitate toward good character-driven fiction.

CS: You also have predominantly narrated Teen novels, do you get to choose the audiobook projects that you undertake, and if so (or even if not) is there something that appeals to you about teen novels? Can you also describe the process of finding a voice and style for your audiobook narration, especially with titles for teens?

How I get my projects: Gratefully at this point in my career, I do get offered a lot of projects (rather than auditioning).  That is really awesome. That said, I am still happy to audition. Authors have spent years with their characters, and I think they should get the right to pick the voice that closest matches the ones in their head.

Teen Novels: Because of the higher tone of my voice, I do get asked to do a lot of YA novels.  I completely understand the vocal “type” casting. If they can get someone whose voice can sound close to the age of the protagonist without sounding too cartoony, it brings the story to life more authentically.  I love YA novels. I know there is a faction of people who look down on the genre assuming that it is written for young girls who want to read about first love etc. I’ve seen firsthand that YA literature today is tackling very complex and dark subject matters – just through the lens of a younger lead character (male/female/transgender/non-binary).  Sadie is about a sexually abused girl who seeks revenge against her abuser (who also is her sister’s murderer).  There is nothing “Will he like me?” about that! Part of what I love about Teen novels, is getting the chance to bring to life characters who are not perfect and get to go on huge journeys of growth.  

My process: I use the same process for finding voices for YA novels that I do for all novels.  I make an org chart when I am prepping to keep track of everyone I need to voice. I jot down all the adjectives that the author uses to describe them and use the author’s words to help plan out my attack.  Normally I get a gut instinct on how I want people to sound. Sometimes characters will remind me of people who I know IRL. Other times I’ll channel famous actors or characters in movies. I feel like I walk the streets of NYC and collect the distinct voices I hear around me.  

CS: How did you get started in audiobook narration and how does it compare to voice-over or other kinds of acting? Are you an audiobook fan now, or were you before you started narrating?

RS: Gettin’ into narration: I went to school for musical theatre and then moved to NYC after graduation.  I was doing a lot of theatre initially, but I started my voice over career doing animation work.  I was doing a lot of little kid voices for Japanese Anime. That gave me the opportunity to work with my wonderful agent, Shari Hoffman, at Innovative Artists.  She introduced me to narration. She thought because of my animation work and my love of reading it would be a good fit for me. She was right!

How does it compare to other kinds of acting?  Hmm, I think that good acting is good acting.  You have to use the same instincts and have a clear POV for all character work – whether it be theatre, TV, film or VO work in commercials, ADR/Loop Groups, podcasts or narration.  You just change your style a bit depending on the type of acting work. I love it all and basically go where the “yesses” take me in my career. What I find so fulfilling about narration, is that I get to be people I would never be cast as in my other work.  It is a marathon in terms of focus and patience and energy. (And I have run 3 marathons, so I am not using the comparison lightly). Once you have talked in a booth for 8 hours everything else is a piece of cake.

I am an audiobook fan.  Before I started narrating, my husband and I used to listen to audiobooks whenever we had long car trips.  Living in NYC, I don’t have much time in a car. During my short subway commute I find myself listening to more podcasts.  I tend to read most of my books from the glow of my iPad while my husband is asleep next to me and my cat is asleep on my pillow by my head.

CS: What do you wish librarians and reviewers knew about the process of audiobook narration?

RS: Budgets: Not all books get the same budget for production.  Sometimes there isn’t a budget for a director and engineer or sound design etc.  Because of that, it can really feel like a solitary adventure and I am directing myself.  That is when prep especially helps me set up my plan. Also, sometimes you do your corrections or “fixes” in a totally different studio with no vocal references on a book that you recorded 2 months ago and can’t remember the voices you made.  (Let’s just say that I now keep vocal references on my phone just in case this happens.)

It’s a workout! I don’t think I realized how taxing the process was until I sat down to record my first book.  I naively thought “I LOVE to read. I love making up characters. And I love analyzing text. This should be fun!”  It is really hard to talk for 8 hours a day, let alone drive the pace, say every single word accurately and live in the character’s emotions for that extended time.  I am physically and mentally exhausted after three days in a booth. But, I am also totally fulfilled. Getting paid to read books you would otherwise read as a fan and play pretend all day is an incredible job.

CS: Follow up: Do you have any tricks or processes that help you get through productions?

RS: Prep, Prep and more Prep. I like to read the book at least 3 times before recording so that narrating is not “cold reading.”  Obviously, I am not memorizing it, like I would in other scripts, but I do mark the heck out of it using color coding and symbols that denote things to me like breath marks, sarcasm, volume or pace.  I know I am a bit type A when it comes to this and other narrators may not do this. This is my ideal timing for prep, but sometimes life happens, and publishers don’t get the final script until the week before.  I have even gotten the script the day before once (and no I won’t tell you which book!).

CS: As a narrator, can you speak to the art of storytelling and how important it is or has been to our culture?

RS: For me personally, storytelling/theatre/literature/film has been my gateway to understanding different parts of history and humanity.  I have only one life to live but because of the work of remarkable writers and storytellers, I am able to learn from the adventures, trials and triumphs of others.  Writers are incredible to me because they can observe the world around them (or dream up an entirely new world) and distill those journeys and insights into a form that others can be inspired or educated by.  I feel like readers are more empathetic that non-readers (ahem ahem POTUS).

Also, I don’t care HOW you read.  If you read the text yourself in actual book form, on a tablet or are listening to someone else read.  The most important part of the process is the exchange of ideas. Sometimes I hear people say that listening to audiobooks is not “reading.”  (insert raspberry noise)

So I guess this is me stepping off my soapbox. (ha) Thank you for your support and feedback.  This job is one of the joys of my life. And discussing books with women is another joy of my life.  If only we could have had this conversation over a nice beverage of your choice and a fabulous charcuterie platter.  (Everything is better with cheese).

CS: Thank you Rebecca! I agree cheese does make everything so much better and I hope to one day be able to join you at a table and discuss all the books with you, and such a delight to think of all the other women I would hope to be able to join us!

It has been such a treat to get to know more about your craft, and I so admire your talent and abilities to perform stories! You are definitely one of my favorite storytellers and love that when I hear you voice it brings memories of some of my favorite stories!

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